Proximity sensor for the blind

Our wrist-mounted proximity sensor can easily be "scanned" in any desired direction to indicate distance to nearest object.

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We take for granted that we see what's in front of us but that's not so for blind people.
A variety of devices exist to help navigate, the most ubiquitous being the cane which seems to work in most cases.
However it's not ideal for all cases as it only "detects" things it touches, which tend to be on the ground so there's nothing to show higher obstacles at table, torso or head level.

We designed an electronic proximity sensor that can be mounted on a wrist (maybe finger if further miniaturized) and can easily be "scanned" in any desired direction to indicate the distance to the nearest object in that direction.

If one has or wish to have any hobby that is done on a table, our device helps locate things on that table, with some indication of size.

It can help locate tools and such without the destructive side effects of a cane, etc.

Our device is NOT a replacement for the cane; we see it as a complementary aid that can be helpful in many cases where a cane is not ideal.

It works up to about 4 meters (depending on sun brightness when outdoors) so it can pre-warn what the cane might find.

Finding a mug on a table is much easier with our sensor: moving your wrist left and right, above and parallel to the table, will show you exactly where some object is and give an indication of it's width.

"Looking" for a table or other furniture that does not have low parts that would be touched by a cane becomes possible.

Walking parallel to a wall and finding a doorway becomes easier.

Obstacles at torso and head level can be detected without dangerously lifting the cane so high.

The distance "indicator" is another innovative feature as it uses a miniature speaker to give precise tactile feedback by "pulsing" a miniature membrane that we envisage mounted on a finger thus allowing the user to "feel" the distance independent of ambient noise and not interfering with verbal communications.

  • 1 × VL53L1X The VL53L1X is a state-of-the-art, Time-of-Flight (ToF), laser-ranging sensor, from STM. It is the fastest miniature ToF sensor on the market with accurate ranging up to 4 m and fast ranging frequency up to 50 Hz. It integrates a SPAD receiving array, a 940 nm invisible Class1 laser emitter, physical infrared filters, and optics to achieve the best ranging performance in various ambient lighting conditions with a range of cover window options. Unlike conventional IR sensors, the VL53L1X uses ST’s latest generation ToF technology which allows absolute distance measurement whatever the target color and reflectance. We used a "BB-VL53L" board available in a variety of places.
  • 1 × Small Arduino board, mini/micro/nano/any
  • 1 × Case that takes batteries and electronics
  • 1 × Male and female mono jacks for connecting speager.
  • 1 × Small audio loudspeaker salvaged from laptop, tablet, phone This is actually used for tactile feedback

  • What's it made of

    Cat08/02/2021 at 22:56 0 comments

    The second picture shows a closeup with the Arduino Pro Micro, the Sensor Board, Power Switch and Output Jack.

    The Sensor board is attached to the "front" of the case with Hot-Glue so it's fixed in relation to the case.

    The third picture shows the distance sensor chip (the two greenish "windows") in all its splendor.

    The next picture shows a small loudspeaker that was carefully removed and cut from the plastic framework surrounding it.

    This is one of the most "advanced" features of our project: the user feels timed pulses indicating the distance to the nearest object.

    Most other similar products (even commercial) use a simple vibrator that just spins a motor with an ex-centric weight.  While varying the voltage on such a vibrator does vary the level of vibration, those "levels of vibration" are much less repeatable and distinguishable than our precisely timed pulses.

  • Project build

    Cat08/02/2021 at 22:46 0 comments

    We built the project inside a re-purposed case that was holding 3 AA batteries and a small board for flickering a string of LEDs to be placed inside a bottle to look pretty.

    The first picture shows the insides from the top without the cover.  Hot Glue was used to hold the sensor board at the top-right and the power-switch (top-left).

    The black-red wires connect the haptic device to a jack in the side of the enclosure.

    The haptic device is a small rectangular speaker salvaged from an old laptop or tablet.  You can see the red coil attached to the transparent membrane. As we apply voltage to the coil the membrane will be pushed out and be felt by the skin if applied on a sensitive area.

  • Our current code

    Ana08/02/2021 at 22:46 0 comments

    We are using the SparkFun VL53L1X Arduino Library by Nathan Seidle of SparkFun ( to get readings from the Time of Flight sensor we used for this project. I won't go through all the code here, but some of the more important parts :)

    Some defined values set the min/max frequencies and the distances between which they occur:

    // The min/max frequencies
    #define FREQ_MIN 2
    #define FREQ_MAX 20
    // Not exactly mm but ballpark
    #define DIST_MIN 100
    #define DIST_MAX 3000

    Since we want the transition between pitches to be somewhat 'smoothed' in order to reduce the effect of outlier measurements, we initialize a few variables to take a weighted average (heavily weighed towards the newest measurement):

    const int numReadings = 10;
    int readings[numReadings];      // the readings from the analog input
    int readIndex = 0;              // the index of the current reading
    int total = 0;                  // the running total
    int DistAvg = 5000; // Start average with something to get there faster
    float DistAvgWeight = 0.9;      // IIR Weight of new Measurement. Y[n] = aX[n] + (1-a)Y[n-1]

    In loop we start taking the actual measurements when they become available and the signal rate is good (object is not too far):

    distanceSensor.startMeasurement(); //Write configuration bytes to initiate measurement
    while (distanceSensor.newDataReady() == false) //Poll for completion of measurement. Takes 40-50ms.
    { delay(1); }
    unsigned int uiSignalRate = distanceSensor.getSignalRate();
    if (uiSignalRate > 10)
        NewDist = distanceSensor.getDistance(); // Get the result of the measurement from the sensor
        DistAvg = DistAvgWeight * NewDist + (1 - DistAvgWeight) * DistAvg;  // Averaging the measurements for the smooth transition between pitches

    And finally use the weighted average to set a register which controls the frequency of the haptic output:

    // fscale is basically a logarithmic mapping from one range to another
    uint16_t ui16_New_OCR = fscale(DIST_MIN, DIST_MAX, OCR_MIN, OCR_MAX, DistAvg, 4);
    // setting the register
    OCR1A = ui16_New_OCR;

    You can see the full code for the device at :)

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